2017 Essay | The International Museum of Dinnerware Design

2017 Essay | The International Museum of Dinnerware Design

Timeless Dinnerware Design

By Margaret Carney, Ph.D.

Foley China Works, Fenton, England (1850-2008)
Robert Crawford Johnson (English, 1882-1937)
Cunard Steamship Line RMS Queen Mary
Deco Cube teapot and accessories, 1930s Bone china, glazed
Teapot: 3.875 x 4 inches
Creamer: 2.875 x 1.875 inches
Sugar: 1.5 x 2 inches
Teacups: 2.375 x 2.375 inches
Saucers: 4.25 inches
Museum Purchase 2014.159
International Museum of Dinnerware Design
Jackson China Company, Durable Dish Company,
Falls Creek, PA (1914-1985)
Roy Lichtenstein, designer (American, 1923-1997)
place setting, 1966
Whiteware, with stencil decoration, glazed
Various dimensions
Promised Gift of Susanne and John Stephenson
International Museum of Dinnerware Design

Perhaps everyone knows that “dinnerware” is tableware that includes plates, glassware and cutlery used for serving and eating a meal. And perhaps everyone also knows that “design” involves a plan or drawing to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment or object. Then they probably know that something is considered “timeless” when it is not affected by the passage of time or changes in fashion. Then of what would an exhibition of timeless dinnerware design be comprised? Would it simply involve work that is lasting, classical and eternal? Would it be the dinnerware equivalent of the “little black dress”?

Corning, Inc. (established 1851)
Ted Reyda, designer (American, b. 1943)
Prototype photosensitive glass plate with fern motif, 1971
10 inches
On loan from the designer
International Museum of Dinnerware Design
The Salem China Company,
Salem, Ohio (1898-1967)
Don Schreckengost (American, 1910-2001), et al, designers
Mandarin Tricorne Streamline coffee pot,
and dinnerware service, 1934
Ceramic, glazed
Coffee pot with lid: 7.5 inches
Creamer: 2.5”
Lidded sugar: 3.5 inches
Cup: 2 inches Saucer: 6 inches
Triangular dinner plate: 11.5 inches
Triangular luncheon plate: 9 inches
Gift of Margaret Carney and Bill Walker
(coffee pot with lid) 2014.198
Promised Gift of Margaret Carney and Bill Walker
(creamer, lidded sugar, cup and saucer, dinner plate)
Museum Purchase (luncheon plate) 2016.40
International Museum of Dinnerware Design

The special exhibition Timeless Dinnerware Design answers this question. While the exhibition focuses on dinnerware designed and created since the 1930s, each piece or set may be a masterpiece that has proven to be lasting, classical and eternal. Perhaps it is also a recognizable style from a certain era, such as Art Deco, Mid-Century Modern, or Pop Art. There may even be design patents for the particular dinnerware. However the exhibition is not constrained by time as much as it is by timelessness – work that captures our imagination whether it is futuristic, nostalgic, or of the moment.

Curated from the permanent collection of the International Museum of Dinnerware Design in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the exhibition is a sample visual exploration of dinnerware designed during the last 100 years. Some were intended to adorn our fine tabletops for all eternity, and others were created to be less permanent, despite attractive qualities and design success and accolades galore.

Castleton China Company, New Castle, Pennsylvania (1940-1974)
Shenango Pottery Company, New Castle, PA (1901-2009)
Eva Zeisel, designer American, (b. Budapest 1906-2011)
Design date: 1942-1945
Museum or Castleton White coffee pot,
teapot and dinnerware, 1949-74
Porcelain, glazed
Coffee pot with lid: 10 inches
Teapot with lid: 6 inches
Sugar with lid: 3.5 inches
Creamer: 4.75 inches
Cup: 2 inches
Saucer: 6.75 inches
Dinner plate: 10.625 inches
Salad plate: 8.25 inches
Bread and butter plate: 6.125 inches
Gift of Cheryl Blackwell (coffee pot with lid) 2017.61
Museum Purchase (teapot with lid) 2016.218 (sugar with lid) 2016.219
(creamer) 2016.220 (cup and saucer) 2016.221 (dinner plate) 2016.223
(salad plate) 2016.224 (bread and butter plate) 2016.225
International Museum of Dinnerware Design
Saenger Porcelain, Newark, Delaware
Peter Saenger, designer (American, b. 1948)
Design II/”Captain Picard’s Tea Service,” 1990
black teapot and tray with four nesting cups
Teapot: 7 inches Tray: 10.5 x 9 inches Cup: 3.25 inches
Initial design circa 1980
Ceramic, glazed
Gift of Margaret Carney and Bill Walker 2014.206
International Museum of Dinnerware Design

Many well-known designers are included such as Eva Zeisel, Russel Wright, Glidden Parker, Arne Jacobsen, Roy Lichtenstein, Viktor Schreckengost, Carl Auböck, Don Schreckengost, Frederick Hurten Rhead, Michael Lax, Robert Crawford Johnson, Ted Reyda, Peter Saenger, Shinichiro Ogata, James Klein and David Reid (KleinReid), Paul Eshelman, Per Lutken, and Jay Cousins. All of their designs may be considered eternal in the their timeless sense of form and beauty and their everlasting place in our dining experiences.

Juxtaposed with the venerable dinnerware designs of these legends, are designs created for less formal, occasionally disposable, and sometimes ecologically sensitive dining experiences. These would include the disposable, recyclable, biodegradable, compostable, and even edible wares and several award-winning dinnerware prototype designs that have yet to go into production.

Stelton, Denmark (1960-)
Arne Jacobsen, designer (Danish, 1902-1971)
Cylinda line coffee set, 1967
Lauffer Stainless Steel with plastic handle
Coffee pot with lid: 12 inches
Creamer: 8 inches
Sugar: 3.75 inches
Ashtray: 2.5 inches
Gift of Nancy and Tom Durnford 2014.160
International Museum of Dinnerware Design

When most people think of dinnerware they think of dishes created from ceramic materials – earthenware, stoneware, or porcelain; handmade by the artist or designed for industry and mass produced for consumers. But masterpieces of good design come in all materials. Timeless Dinnerware Design features work created from ceramic, glass, metal, plastic, sugar cane fibre, millet, rice, wheat and prototype designs on paper.

There is timeless dinnerware for the coffee drinker, the cake lover, the ecologically conscientious, the formal diner, for the breakfast after the “Happening” in 1966, the nature lover, the person not afraid of a little radioactivity in their dishes or food, the Art Deco design lover, the camping enthusiast, the person who likes to pass the butter please, the Trekkie, the nostalgic transatlantic traveller (think Queen Mary), the cocktail lover, and the person who likes to use their fork and eat it, too.

The International Museum of Dinnerware Design has utilized the Mandarin Tricorne Streamline by Salem China 1934 forms designed by Don Schreckengost (American, 1917-2002) and others for its logo since 2012. The silhouette of these remarkable Art Deco-era forms is like a cityscape of dinnerware against the horizon of our daily lives.

Also in the early 1930s in England, the popular Cube teapot designed and patented much earlier by Robert Crawford Johnson (English, 1882-1937) was utilized by the Cunard Steamship Line on its transatlantic ocean liner Queen Mary. The individual teapots, sugars, creamers, and cups and saucers were ivory bone china with banding and were manufactured by Foley.

In 1936, Frederick Hurten Rhead designed a new line for Homer Laughlin called Fiesta. Among the original colors was an orange/red glaze whose attractive, vibrant color was derived from uranium. That color Fiesta Ware was discontinued in 1942 when the uranium was needed for the atom bomb. A Geiger Counter reading will convince you to admire it from a distance in your china cupboard, but refrain from serving friends coffee, tea, or juice in these pieces.

Glidden Pottery, Alfred, New York (1940-1957)
Glidden Parker, designer (American, 1913-1980)
Sculptured Stoneware in Viridian winged soup
and triangular sandwich snack sets, 1953
Stoneware, glazed (viridian)
Tray: 9.75 x 7.25 inches
Lidded cup: 2.75 x 5.75 x 4 inches
Gift of John Dolan and Mary Beth Sootheran, Andover House 2017.40
Museum Purchase 2014.26
International Museum of Dinnerware Design
Yamato, Tajimi, Japan
Russel Wright, designer (American, 1904-1976)
Theme Informal glassware and dinner service, 1965
Stoneware, glazed
Various dimensions
Gift of Mark Del Vecchio and Garth Clark 2015.105

Many industrial designers possess an endless quest for beauty as well as function. Eva Zeisel (born Hungary, 1906-2011) was a prime example. While she designed the beautiful and wildly popular Hallcraft Tomorrow’s Classic and Century lines for Hall China in the 1950s, nothing surpasses her Museum White dinnerware designed 1942-46 as a commission for the Museum of Modern Art and manufactured in 1949 by Castleton China. The coffee pot, the teapot, the cups, the saucers, the creamer, the sugar – all so sublime and memorable.

While it isn’t possible to tell a story about all of these timeless dinnerware designs, Glidden Pottery is on the short “must tell” list. Glidden Pottery was founded by designer Glidden Parker in Alfred, New York in 1940. The multitude of innovative shapes and hand-painted dinnerware made the dinnerware extremely popular, even among movie stars like Lucille Ball. One of the most captivating Mid-Century Modern forms was their 1953 Sculptured Stoneware winged soup and sandwich snack sets in a novel Viridian glaze.

Metaal, Netherlands (established 1953)
Michael Lax, designer (American, 1929-1999)
Grainware Metaal butter dish with knife, 1987
Aluminum blend
8.5 x 4.5 inches
Museum Purchase 2016.115
International Museum of Dinnerware Design

Who but renowned designer Viktor Schreckengost would have the genius to put amazing tripod feet on his 1955 Free Forms shapes for Salem China. The Primitive pattern was one of his favorites on that shape. The cups are almost as delightful to look at as they are to sip coffee from. The teapot is rare, and that’s why you don’t see one in this exhibition.

The 1950s produced a plethora of great design in the dinnerware realm. Danish designer Per Lutken (1916-1998) created memorable glassware designs for Holmegaard in Copenhagen. Still popular today because of its timeless design are his Martini pitcher (1957) and cocktail glasses (1953).

Unforgettable flatware, timeless in design and utility, describes the 1955 stainless steel service designed by Carl Auböck (Austrian, 1900-1957) for Amboss in Vienna. Dining becomes an art form when these special utensils are in one’s hands.

Designer Russel Wright is almost a household name. His American Modern dinnerware is a classic, as are several of his other lines. However, his love of nature and his exploration of new materials is as clear (or should one say “translucent”) as his 1959 Melamine creation for Northern Industrial Chemical Company in Boston. Titled Flair Ming Lace Leaves, each plate, cup, platter, bowl and saucer is unique – because the individually tinted actual Chinese jade leaves placed between the layers of plastic, are unique. And they are so translucent!

In 1965, Russel Wright designed what would be his final two sets of dinnerware, known as Theme Formal and Theme Informal, both manufactured by Yamato in Japan. People weren’t sitting down for formal dinners as much any longer. The glassware included with the Theme Formal set is beyond beautiful. A joy to hold and behold.

There aren’t many dinnerware sets that are marketed “For Breakfast after the Happening,” advertised in Art in America in 1966, or designed by Pop Art artist Roy Lichtenstein. Yet here it is. These are a promised gift of artists Susanne and John Stephenson.

The following year, 1967, Danish designer and architect, Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971) created his Cylinda line coffee service for Stelton. Its material is Lauffer Stainless Steel. Its appeal is timeless. Even if one doesn’t drink coffee, this makes you want to.

American designer Ted Reyda was working for Corning in 1971 when he created a prototype photosensitive glass plate with a fern motif. If this plate had gone into production it might have revolutionized the dinnerware industry. The concept was simple. Instead of changing your dishes every time you dined, you simply changed your tablecloth or placemats. Each new tabletop surface transformed this transparent and translucent plate into a breathtaking and memorable dining experience.

Some dinnerware designs have a specific dining purpose such as the stainless steel butter dish and knife designed by Michael Lax in 1987 for Metal – a timeless 2-piece sculpture for the table; the Saenger Porcelain tea service designed by Peter Saenger in the 1980s, which has been in production for the past 30 years and can be seen in Star Trek: the Next Generation and is sometimes referred to as Captain Picard’s Tea Service; Paul Eshelman’s geometric, architecture-based red stoneware tea set, first introduced in 1995; the Orikaso flat pack polypropylene camping dishes designed by Jay Cousins in 2006; the lyrical designs by Shinichiro Ogata for the Japanese WASARA biodegradable, compostable, tree-free dinnerware created from sugar cane fibre, bamboo pulp, and reed in 2009; and the sublime set of celadon-glazed EOS cake stands designed by KleinReid in 2016.

Some timeless dinnerware designs were created as prototypes, won awards, but have not yet been manufactured. These prototypes are included as panel visuals in this exhibition, yet easily show the genius of Yew Siang See in Malaysia with designs for Pop-up Tableware; Sahar Madanat with Product Design Innovation Studio in Amman, Jordan for Plate-Oh!; and German designer Nils Ferber’s Fukushima Dinnerware.

And finally, with only one timeless dinnerware design in the category of edible dinnerware – Bakey’s edible cutlery from India, in sweet and spicy flavors. It would be timeless and stand the test of time if it wasn’t for the fact that they won’t be saved because they simply will be eaten during the meal. As the inventor/creator/designer boasts, when someone asked if the utensils could become damaged during a meal: “the broken knife become a cracker.”



Margaret Carney is a ceramic historian with Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in Asian art history, and a B.A. in anthropology/archaeology. Dr. Carney is a Fellow of the American Ceramic Society and an elected member of the International Academy of Ceramics in Switzerland. Grants received include Senior Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art and the Renwick Gallery, as well as from the Tile Heritage Foundation and the Cumming Ceramic Research Foundation. She served as the founding director of the Museum of Ceramic Art at Alfred, in Alfred, New York. She has curated 50 exhibitions, presented over 100 public lectures, and authored 80 books, catalogues, and journal articles. She has taught ceramic world history, as well as other courses, at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, the Ohio State University, and elsewhere. She was director and curator of the Blair Museum of Lithophanes in Toledo, Ohio, for 9 years, writing the first book on the topic in 180 years. She currently serves as founding director and curator of the International Museum of Dinnerware Design (IMoDD), Ann Arbor, Michigan which was established in 2012.   



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